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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Apple Tree Rescue

In 2012, I ordered six apple trees: Idared, Gravenstein, Honey Crisp, Jonagold, Yellow-Golden Delicious, and Northern Spy. I really only wanted three trees, but knew how unlikely it would be to have 100% survival.

The Gravenstein was the first to bloom, in 2014. The pink buds turned to white blossoms, a promising kind of beauty. Note the white rodent guard at the base of the trunk (at right). 

Somehow I had believed that the Gravenstein would survive all the rest, because my mother remembers eating them as a little girl, from a tree on the prairies where she lived. Also, my father made Gravenstein apple sauce one year when I was growing up, and it was the best apple sauce ever. The family connection makes this my favorite apple tree.

The rodent guards did not protect the trees from rodents. Above is what I found during my first check-up on the trees this spring, 2015. The Gravenstein and the Honey Crisp were the two trees to be hit. (Ironically, the other four had been hammered by deer in the fall when they crunched down the fencing, but at least those trees were still rooted!) At first I thought that these two were lost. It's funny how you can plant extra knowing that some will die, but when the time comes, it's hard to let them go. I did my best not to be devastated. Then my gardening friend Ying told me that she had this happen too, and that she plunked them back into the ground -- and they grew roots and lived! Perhaps all is not lost for the two trees that were taken down by small rodents acting like big rodents (beavers).

My husband mentioned an old tradition of using moss to help with grafting. My daughter and I had recently noticed that our favorite mossy outcrop had been pillaged by wildlife, pulling back chunks of moss off the granite -- perhaps deer.

We had propped up some of the moss against the rock, hoping it would re-attach. Lots of other pieces lay scattered about. This created the perfect opportunity for moss harvest, since many of those pieces were likely to die, exposed to the elements and separated from their base.

I soaked the chewed ends of the trees in water while preparing to replant them.

You know how it can be helpful to nick a cutting before planting, to stimulate root growth? I figured these trees were already nicked!

I placed a few tree treats in the hole first 
(the one growing benefit offered by the deer!)

Next I sprinkled rooting hormone on the moss and the base of the trees.

I wrapped the trees in moss and then leaves...

Placed them in the holes, added more moss, tamped it down...

...and added water, soil, and more water. 
I made a point of keeping the graft points above the soil level. 

Last but not least: a much more robust rodent protector, with metal mesh wrapped around, folded down along the ground, and held down with rocks. Here's hoping!

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